7.In 2015, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published the first findings of their jointly commissioned research into pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the UK. While the research showed evidence of good employer attitudes towards, and treatment of, new and expectant mothers, there were also some very worrying results. One of the most shocking findings was that discrimination had increased since similar research by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2005, with more women now being made redundant or feeling forced to leave their job than a decade ago. Another was that more than three quarters of the women surveyed had experienced a negative or potentially discriminatory experience as a result of their pregnancy or maternity. Key findings from the research are outlined in the next chapter.
8.The EHRC followed up the initial research with further work and analysis. It then made its final recommendations to the Government on the actions that should be taken to counter the discrimination revealed by the research. A final report was published on 22 March 2016 alongside the EHRC’s recommendations and the Government’s response.
9.In its response, the Government accepted or accepted in principle most of the recommendations and outlined the actions that it would take, or consider taking, as a result. The response did not set out any specific targets or timelines and did not go into detail about the actions that the Government would take.
10.We felt compelled to launch this inquiry because we were so concerned by the findings of the BIS/EHRC research. We recognised its importance in demonstrating the scale of the problem, and we wanted to draw attention to those findings. Most importantly, we felt there was a need to ensure that action was taken now to deal with the discrimination exposed by this research. We want to be able to look back in five or 10 years and see that the situation has improved significantly, not that the same problems exist on the same scale or, worse, that there has been a further decline.
11.Our inquiry and this Report focus on what the next steps should be. Our terms of reference for the inquiry can be found in Annex 1. During the inquiry we received more than 30 written evidence submissions. We held three oral evidence sessions in which we heard from experts, unions, employers, the EHRC and the Minister of State for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Nick Boles MP. We also heard directly from new and expectant mothers during a visit to Portsmouth. We are grateful for all the evidence we received whether from a position of professional expertise, personal experience or both.
12.An overview of the BIS/EHRC research findings and the Government’s response is given in the Background section, which also sets out important rights and protections for employees and workers. In Chapter 1 we outline some of the key areas of concern identified as a result of the research findings and examine whether any changes in laws and protections are needed. In Chapter 2 we scrutinise the robustness of the awareness-raising approaching being taken forward by the Government. Chapter 3 looks at access to justice for women who have experienced pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Finally, in Chapter 4 we discuss enforcement and monitoring going forward.
13.We would like to thank our Specialist Adviser, Grace James, Professor of Law and Deputy Head, School of Law, University of Reading, for her help and guidance throughout this inquiry.
1 Grace James declared the following interests of relevance to this inquiry and subject area: member of the Fawcett Society; the UK gender equality law expert for the European Equality Law Network (from 2016); former member of the Academic Advisory Group for the EHRC/BIS research project on pregnancy and maternity related discrimination in the workplace (2014-2015); has made two unsuccessful bids for funding – to look at invocation of law in relation to pregnancy and parenting: workplace conflicts (2008) and to look at carer concerns and workplace dispute resolution (2013).
4 August 2016